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Store design: Step inside the future

Retail design experts pick out the major in-store innovations unveiled on the high street this year.

The figure with the cloaked face and the scythe is on the verge of cutting away the legs from under 2012, but before this happens it seems worthwhile asking some of the design and visual merchandising experts operating in the fashion sector what the year has added up to. This has certainly been a year of contrasts, with new trends becoming apparent and fresh ways of attracting shoppers into stores being deployed by businesses both large and small, at the same time as significant numbers of retailers give up the game altogether.

But ultimately, does what has happened over the past 12 months offer new directions for 2013 and is it possible to read the runes from what has gone before?

Karl McKeever

Karl McKeever

Karl McKeever

Brand director at retail consultancy Visual Thinking

There has been an emphasis on in-store display this year and generally brands have been upping their game. Whether it’s better props or visual merchandising equipment, there definitely has been more innovation in this area. There has also been a lot more technology in stores, from labelling to big screens. Tesco is experimenting with screens in place of aisles and New Look has been playing with digital photo frames in its Oxford Street store. And people seem ready to accept it.

Now that people are more used to technology being integrated into their lives, the barriers are a bit lower than they were.

The other point is that there are things out there that are not reliant on huge investment. Because we are still in a fairly tight place as far as the economy is concerned, we’re not actually seeing a huge amount of big design change. Existing assets and estates are being sweated and I think that will continue into 2013.

And there are fewer shops than there were this time last year. I think retailers realise that shoppers are being more picky, and that they have to work a bit harder than before.

Tim Greenhalgh

Tim Greenhalgh

Tim Greenhalgh

Chief creative officer at design consultancy Fitch

Yesterday I was giving one of my US colleagues a quick flash of London retail. For Burberry, it’s interesting to see the depth of volume, as far as space is concerned – a large area and an interesting use of technology. But it still felt somewhat sterile.

It felt like a posher Banana Republic and I don’t think the staff need to be wearing iPads to prove their credentials. Then we went into the Superdry store on Regent Street and it looked very derivative – All Saints meets Bolongaro Trevor meets something else.

There seems to be a lot of these big, dark stores around. But then I went to Primark and it was a lot more fun. It was the first time I’d seen a store that puts a digital screen to work. The big thing that we’re talking about is where digital meets retail. The interesting thing is that Primark has got one very large screen, just like Burberry. [While] if it spent another £100,000 on getting iPads, it wouldn’t necessarily add anything.

And then there’s Bolongaro Trevor itself. It’s what All Saints used to be – and there’s something new almost every time you walk in, offset by great merchandising. It’s the Zara trading principle but at a better level.

Finally, you’ve got to love the atmosphere in the Liberty menswear department. The visual merchandising is outstanding and that’s still important.

Paul Brooks

Paul Brooks

Paul Brooks

Managing director of branding and visual merchandising consultancy SFD

You can’t ignore the fact that austerity has been a hallmark of 2012. In spite of store closures, there are still a lot of shops out there and it’s hard not to think this would have an effect on retail and budgets.

Stores didn’t make that many mistakes, but it was the ones that innovated that were unaffected. Shoppers are better informed, better travelled and more cynical than they were. Couple that with digital and you have a difficult position for retailers.

I think, therefore, that 2013 will be the year of the customer. They will be the ones calling the shots.

So what does this mean? We’re seeing the growth of bigger and bolder ‘super brand flagships’. Whether it’s Forever 21, Primark or Uniqlo. So premium sites, where these stores are located, will become even more premium.

Finally, you can’t ignore the multichannel offer. It’s been huge this year and the impact is going to be that estates are going to shrink and all of the money is going to be spent on refits.

Julie Oxberry

Julie Oxberry

Julie Oxberry

Managing director of retail and leisure design consultancy Household

There’s been some innovation this year, but the main theme has been about emotional attachment. Customers and brands are sharing information with each other, which creates a more seamless experience across channels.

There are various examples of this. There have been Converse shoe concessions where you can customise your shoes in store. It’s interesting because the sale has been made and now you’ve got this other thing that adds to the sense of community.

There’s also the idea of shops and shoppers merging – it’s all part of sharing spaces. The House of Fraser fulfilment lounges in Aberdeen and Liverpool are good examples. And on the digital front, screens have been everywhere.

It’s also worth noting the Asics store on Oxford Street. It operates a running club and is an example of a store reaching out beyond the physical boundaries that it operates in. And if you’re talking about that, all media seem to be extending beyond their boundaries.

The Asos back page ad in Stylist magazine this year allowed you to scan it to access new images and content on your phone. This sort of thing is bound to continue.

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